The Face of New Jersey Racism

In this political season it’s useful to point out what may be the most racist proposal put forth in New Jersey since city-wide school desegregation. It is the “Fair School Funding” bill and comes from Senator Mike Doherty of Hunterdon County. He probably would say he’s thinking about all New Jerseyeans. Yet, he’s proposing a policy that would push our state backwards from schools that are “separate but equal” (a poor starting point), to “separate but unequal”, where much of the South was in the 1950s.

Desegregation in our state was done on a city-wide basis, unlike in southern states which were integrated at a county level. The differences in effects are stark. Southern schools achieved racial integration because county districts limited white flight. In New Jersey, white families simply moved over a city line and created their own new racially segregated school districts, like West Amwell, Hamilton, and Ewing.

As a result, New Jersey has 590 school districts for a population of 8.7 million people while North Carolina has 115 districts for a population of 9.4 million people. This is how schools became comparatively “separate”.

This system of city-wide integration gave rise to New Jersey’s current level of segregation, which ranks the state as 12th in black-white segregation and 6th in Hispanic-white segregation according to a study at the University of Michigan based on US Census data.

The 1985 “Abbott vs. Burke” decision by the NJ Supreme Court further adjusted New Jersey’s educational landscape. It mandated that poor districts receive equal funding to rich districts. This is how schools became “equal”.

For those who aren’t students of civil rights history, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that “separate but equal” wasn’t good enough. While school systems across the country and particularly in the South resisted integration, forced school busing in these new county-wide districts, in many ways saved southern cities from the white flight that drained resources from their northern counterparts. It was a blessing in disguise.

Rather than propose ways to finish the job of racial integration in New Jersey, Senator Mike Doherty of Hunterdon County proposes to gut our “separate but equal” system of educational apartheid and replace it with a “separate and unequal” system.

Senator Doherty’s plan is called Fair School Funding. It seeks to equalize school funding from the State to a formula that equates to $7,400 per student no matter what school system that student lives in. In Senator Doherty’s PowerPoint presentation, he compares West Amwell (which is mostly white) to Asbury Park (which is mostly black). In his example, West Amwell would receive an additional $6000 per student from the State while Asbury Park would lose $17,000 per student. West Amwell could then spend $20,000 but Asbury Park could afford to spend only $10,000.

In the presentation given to a West Amwell Town Hall meeting, Senator Doherty uses a particularly “high handed” statistic that says 85% of school districts will get more money. However, I suspect that 50% of students will benefit and 50% will not because the large urban districts like Newark, Trenton and Asbury Park would be the losers.

The Fair School Funding web site is very well done and happily reports how much money every school district in the State would gain or lose. Trenton would lose over $130,000,000 (about 45% of its total) and Newark would lose over $370,000,000. Meanwhile, Princeton will gain over $23,000,000.

It takes a lot for me to call a thing racist but this plan just is. It’s based on the notion that it’s good that our schools are separate and furthermore that children in New Jersey’s poor (mostly black and Hispanic) districts don’t deserve the same public education afforded those in wealthy (mostly white) districts. If it weren’t, Doherty might have a Trenton or Newark co-sponsor to explain why property taxes would have to triple in those cities to make up for the loss in funding.

I fully expect Senator Doherty to trot out New Jersey’s Home Rule laws to defend his bill, much like George Wallace used “states rights” arguments to defend racial segregation. America has moved forward, leaving New Jersey behind, and now Doherty wants to take us all the way back to 1954.

Neither a State nor a civilization should want to institute a radical plan like Doherty’s Fair School Funding as it would effectively close urban schools. This proposal is like a “final solution” to the black and Hispanic urban populations.

If nothing else, this proposal shows how messed up New Jersey really is. The fact that a State Senator is proposing this should concern us even more. Senator Doherty needs to be called out. He apparently hopes to rise in the Republican Party and seek state-wide office. This should not happen.

It’s clear though that New Jersey needs to rethink how it wants to govern its society in order to overcome the fear and loathing that has bred Mike Doherty.

It’s fine to think that Asbury Park and Trenton need to do better at running their cities, they do. But really, other forces have caused West Amwell to be like it is and Asbury Park to be like it is. None of those forces have anything to do with how those cities are currently managed.

There are better ways to deal with schools and school funding and I call on Republicans of good will to lead the charge for a better New Jersey.

I’ll offer my counter-proposals.

  • Integrate school systems by county. This will force county-wide funding formulas that equalize education spending while leaving control in the hands of county tax-payers. It also provides real integration which will serve to break up existing pockets of poor achievement.
  • Provide all education funding from the State. This is a weaker remedy but at least accomplishes the goal of shifting funding away from property tax.
  • Combine the two proposals. Shift most school funding to income tax and allow the state to fund twenty-one county districts.
  • New Jersey needs to fix its social fabric before the economic fabric of its cities and suburbs can work well together. The people of New Jersey need to reject segregationists like Doherty and embrace the goal of twenty-one modern, efficient and integrated public school systems.


    Fair School Funding web site –

    University of Michigan Institute for Social Research –

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    5 Responses to “The Face of New Jersey Racism”

    • Mr. Dodson i read the article on racism in N.J. education which is very sad. I’m a fifty baby i was born in the south, Cape Charles Va i was raise in N.J. I came here at the age of around 6years old. Me and my sister and brothers didn’t experience racism in school it may have been there but we were very fortunate. I’m very concern about this growing problem and i feel that i have to do something to help and to be apart of this to fight for our kids today. I would like to help in any way i can please contact me at 609-963-5663 my name is Barbara

    • Truther:

      Well, it is clear that whereever Barbara was educated, her lack of literacy had nothing to do with Racism. It had to do with poor teaching and no amount of money in the world can make up for bad teachers.

    • jk:

      Sorry to say that I know a few people from new jersey, including people from my own family, and there does seem to be a racist undercurrent there, for a supposedly northern state. I am proud to say that my dad and mom are decidedly non-racist though, they seem to be the “black sheep” of the family in that respect (no pun intented). The first part of my life was spent living in a black neighborhood, and most of my friends were black, and we were a very close-knit group of neighbors and friends.

    • T. Bennett:


      My name is Tiffany Bennett and I moved from Virginia to New Jersey about a year and a half ago.   I have a 6 year old and a 13 year old that attend Oaklyn NJ school.    The way New Jersey does it is if you live in a certain township you have to attend a certain school district.   My oldest son seems to be adjusting well but my youngest son has really been struggling this year and I couldn’t figure out why.   He was always saying mom I don’t have any friends the teacher was always sending a note home.   And along with that I had been approached on many occasions on  racism since I’ve lived in this township.    But I never thought in a million years that my 6 year old was dealing with the same thing and it breaks my heart.   I spoke with a member of the staff today which confirmed their concern and different things they had noticed and seen take place.   At this point we are not only trying to get our son out of the school but also shine a spotlight over this situation so that the next family will not have to suffer as we have.   If there is any information you could give me on how to handle this I would appreciate it.

      Thank you so much

    • Don’t know that I have much to suggest. However, I do know that you CAN send your child to other school districts I suspect with some good reason, which it sounds like you have.

      This happens here in Trenton for a variety of reasons. Keep digging. Of course people in the system might not voluntarily help you so you’ll have to persist.

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